Original points from Owen Anderson Ph.D. 3/21/2003
Many runners stretch before their workouts, but scientific research tells us that there are five key reasons NOT to carry out static stretches before you head out for a run:
(1) A muscle which has been passively stretched is weaker, not stronger, than a muscle which has not been passively extended.
(2) Muscles which have been statically stretched are much more easily damaged, compared with muscles which have not been stretched.
(3) There is no solid evidence that passive stretching during a warm-up decreases the risk of injury or heightens performance during an ensuing workout or competition.
(4) Static stretching may indeed increase passive range of motion at key joints, but there is some evidence to suggest that augmentation of such range of motion may actually spike the risk of getting hurt.
(5) A study carried out at the University of Hawaii-Manoa linked pre-workout stretching with a 33-percent higher risk of injury in male marathon runners.
If stretching before workouts and competitions is not a good idea, what should your warm-ups be like? Well, they should include drills to heighten DYNAMIC range of motion at joints and to fully prepare your neuromuscular system for the activities which are to follow. Such drills should also warm up muscles and enhance the ability of muscles to withstand quick lengthenings, so they are less likely to be injured if you turn on some heat during your effort. Passive stretching can be saved for the post-workout or post-competitive time frame, when stretching will help ease your muscles into the quiescent activities which are to follow
Now for my slant.
* The reason I include this research data is to warn you as a coach not to get carried away with stretching, or to buy into fads or those who promote something like yoga as a panacea for curing running ills.
Though the research seems to indicate that stretching does not prevent injuries there are other considerations to make before completely discounting stretching. The research also indicates that lack of flexibility in older runners, especially in the hip area muscle groups, is a primary cause for stride shortening and therefore, loss of speed. So, stretching may be one element to maintain speed through range of motion gained in stretching for older runners. This should however be done after a warm-up and not with ballistic-type or bouncing-type stretching.
Another case in which it is not so clear, is with athletes who have a history of injuries. The research doesn’t seem to be clear if there is any difference with someone who already has a history or is in rehabilitative mode. It is my opinion, that there are people who will benefit by stretching but who should warm up first and save most stretching for after the workout. This is a conundrum for Achilles tendonitis sufferers. One contributing cause may be “tight” calf muscles. Yet, stretching can irritate and in fact instigate a tendonitis.
In any case, it again comes down to “an experiment of one”. Watch, listen and learn. Do not treat all athletes the same.